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Storylines abound as Eagles prep for Irish

| Friday, November 13, 2020

Two weeks ago, Boston College traveled to Death Valley and pushed No. 1 Clemson to the limit, leading by 15 at halftime before a scoreless second half doomed the Eagles to a 34-28 defeat. A week later, that same battered Clemson team flew up to South Bend, Ind., where the No. 4-ranked Irish finished the job, edging out the Tigers in an instant double-overtime classic. Now, this Saturday, the two teams that pushed Clemson to (and over) the edge will clash in a big ACC matchup that has no shortage of storylines. 

“When do you ever get a chance to play the No. 1 team in the country and then the No. 2 team in the country in a span of three weeks? ” Eagles first-year head coach Jeff Hafley said. “I’ve certainly never done that while I was in college football.”

The Eagles have surprised many this year, after entering the year expected to finish near the basement of the ACC. Instead, Hafley has rallied the Eagles to a 5-3 record, with a 4-3 record in the ACC. Hafley, the former defensive coordinator for Ohio State, has built the Eagles into a surprisingly competent team on the basis of a strong defense and a fun-to-watch, if inconsistent, offense, quarterbacked by former Notre Dame backup Phil Jurkovec. Storyline number one? Jurkovec, after transferring from Notre Dame when he couldn’t surpass Ian Book for the starting position, is facing the Irish for the first time. Jurkovec hasn’t been a savior in Boston, but he has given the new-look Eagles offense a down-the-field dynamic that it previously lacked. The sophomore quarterback has 15 touchdowns to 4 interceptions, completing 62% of his passes and adding three touchdowns with his legs. 

“I need to keep him focused on what he does — getting the game plan down and trying to do the best that he can,” Hafley said of his quarterback facing his former school. “I don’t think this is going to be about Phil versus Notre Dame or anything.” 

Observer File Photo
Former Irish quarterback Phil Jurkovec prepares to pass from the pocket during Notre Dame’s 56-27 road win over Wake Forest on Sept. 22, 2018. Jurkovec transferred to Boston College in the offseason following two seasons relegated to a bench role with the Irish.

Jurkovec will hope to exploit Notre Dame’s corners, which frequently struggled with containing Clemson receivers last Saturday. In particular, he’ll look to find receiving stud sophomore Zay Flowers (600 yards, six touchdowns) in one-on-one matchups, while also utilizing junior tight end Hunter Long in the aerial attack. The problem may be for Jurkovec that, given Boston College’s struggling ground game, Notre Dame can key in on stopping the pass. As opposed to last week, when the Irish were focused on bottling up Clemson’s Travis Etienne, Notre Dame has no such star back to focus on. The Eagles are led by David Bailey, who has totaled 429 yards. No Boston College back has averaged over 3.9 yards per carry thus far. Against Notre Dame’s impressive defensive front, the Eagles may struggle to not be a one-dimensional offense on Saturday. 

Defense has been Boston College’s strength on the year, although teams have found a multitude of ways to beat them. For the Eagles, they’ll need to key in on running back Kyren Williams; Eagles defensive end Max Roberts and linebacker Max Richardson have combined for 13 tackles for loss and eight sacks. They’ll push the Irish’s elite offensive line. But the danger with keying in on Notre Dame’s fierce ground game is giving up big plays. Notre Dame showed they were capable last weekend, as Ian Book connected on 13 passes of at least 10 yards, with several huge downfield plays. Boston College ranks 118th out of 123 teams in giving up big plays, having allowed 27 plays of at least 20 yards. So while facing an Irish offense that displayed true versatility last weekend, Boston College must be locked in up and down the field. 

However, despite what the stats say, there’s always a chance for players to step up in games that mean more. And in our second and third storylines, there are multiple reasons why this game means more to Boston College. For the Eagles, this is the Holy War — a great rivalry between two Catholic schools. However, Boston College is just 9-15 against the Irish and riding a six-game losing streak, so the ‘rivalry’ has been pretty one-sided. Their last two clashes have been decided by 29 and 33 points. Playing at home in the Holy War, with a chance to take down the No. 2 team in the nation? Watch out for some unexpected performances. Despite this idea, Hafley dismissed the idea of using the rivalry as extra motivation.

“I understand the tradition and the rivalry,” he said. “But we have got to focus on ourselves — we can’t get caught up in all that.”

Erin Fennessy | The Observer
Irish graduate student quarterback Ian Book lets loose a pass during Notre Dame’s 40-7 senior day win over Boston College on Nov. 23.

However, there is another reason why this game means more to Boston College, and this is exclusive to the Eagles. For viewers at home, they’ll notice Boston College taking the field in white jerseys on Saturday, unusual for the home team. This marks the occasion of Boston College’s annual Red Bandana Game, which honors former Boston College lacrosse player and 9/11 hero Welles Crowther. 

“This is not just about the colors, or wearing a different jersey, or wearing a red bandana,” Hafley said. “It’s representing the ultimate sacrifice, and that’s a special moment.”

This is the 7th Red Bandana game for Boston College, and they’re 3-3 in previous contests, including one of the biggest wins in program history, a 2014 upset of No. 9 USC. So if the return of Jurkovec or the Holy War doesn’t do it, make the Red Bandana game your primary storyline. 

Or, if you’re really still hunting for a reason to tune into this matchup, how about a little history? In 1993, Notre Dame beat No. 1 Florida State at home in a game that was dubbed the “Game of the Century.” However, the week afterwards, the undefeated Irish were shocked by the Eagles. This year paints a familiar picture, as Notre Dame visits BC a week after stunning No. 1 Clemson. If you’re looking for a repeat of history, or for the Irish to exorcise some haunting demons, then that’s just one more storyline and reason to be ready for the 3:30 p.m. kickoff this Saturday. 

So pick your storyline. Phil Jurkovec. The Holy War. The Red Bandana. The 1993 repeat in the making (or not). There’s plenty of them to choose from. But the Eagles will be ready to play on Saturday, looking to pull off a shocker that would turn the college football world upside down again.

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About Aidan Thomas

A junior marketing and ACMS major at Notre Dame, I've countered the success I've enjoyed as a New England sports fan with the painful existence of a Notre Dame football fan.

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